A missing kid. A rugged hero with a dark past. A mystery solved, and a bad guy nabbed in under an hour. The first episode of Tracker was fun, but it felt a little formulaic. We’ve seen this type of show before, right?


Hot off the tail of the Taylor Bowl — I mean Super Bowl — Tracker and its star, Justin Hartley, were under a lot of pressure to deliver.


Keep scrolling for our take on Justin Hartley’s new role as Colter Shaw in Tracker.


Does Tracker Pack Enough Punch?


Tracker is based on the bestselling novel The Never Game by Jeffery Deaver. Hartley plays Colter Shaw, a lone-wolf survivalist who travels around the country in his RV as a “reward seeker.”


He relies on his expert tracking skills to aid law enforcement and private citizens in solving mysteries.


With all this backstory, Tracker Season 1 Episode 1 fell a little flat following the adrenaline rush of the Kansas City Chiefs’ last-second Super Bowl win. And that’s not really what you want from an action series.


After all, this wasn’t Meredith Grey with her hand wrapped around a live bomb inside a man’s chest cavity. Instead, we got Justin Hartley’s calm voice talking an injured woman down from a panic in the opening scene of Tracker.


Kind of a slow start. Already fielding comparisons to Reacher, what will set Tracker and Hartley apart in a crowded action landscape?


Does Justin Hartley Have Action Acting Chops?


Hartley certainly checks all the boxes for an action star. Dashing good looks. Persuasive charm. Great chemistry with his costars.


Folks who skipped This Is Us might not be familiar with Hartley’s work — and maybe that’s a good thing. In a TV landscape where the same handful of actors cycle through projects every season, it can be refreshing to see an unfamiliar face.


But fans of This Is Us may be wondering if Hartley has what it takes to lead an action series.


While Hartley picked up a handful of award nominations for his turn as Kevin Pearson in This Is Us, he was often outshined by the dramatic performances of his costars Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia. 


Following the designed-to-make-you-cry drama of This Is Us, Hartley seemed more destined for the Hallmark movie circuit than the next action series. And he even appeared to head in that direction, starring in the Netflix Christmas movie The Noel Diary.


One thing that set Hartley’s role in Tracker apart was that he didn’t seem like he was trying too hard to be an action star. He didn’t take on a gravelly voice or adopt a steely-eyed stoicism. Instead, he was approachable, honest, and, dare I say, soft.


His character needs people to trust him, and the audience needs to trust him, too.


Tracker Could Shine Through Character Development


With an action story like Tracker, we need to feel like we get the main character’s motivation. Otherwise, why would we be invested?


It’s hard to forgive a little light law-breaking — like when Hartley’s Colter Shaw barricades himself in the back office of the Burger Bin to watch some CCTV footage — if we don’t understand why he’s doing it.


Tracker certainly delivers on this point. Within the first ten minutes of the pilot, we learn Shaw finds missing people for a living. It’s his livelihood.


By the end of the episode, we discover his true motivation. Shaw’s tragic backstory with his off-the-grid father has led him to a life of helping people.


All the components of a good story are there, even if the start was a little slow. But is Hartley the right guy for the job?


Justin Hartley Could Surprise Us


He’s done some action acting before. Fans of Smallville may remember a young Hartley as Green Arrow for several seasons in the middle of the show’s run.


Since then, Hartley has had time to hone his acting chops, but he’s spent most of that time as part of a larger ensemble cast.


Tracker is different. Colter Shaw is a lone wolf. There are support characters, but with a new mystery to solve each episode, the bulk of the show’s success falls on Hartley’s shoulders.


He seems up to the task. He doesn’t have a long history of acting in action shows or movies, so he brings a fresh perspective. Rather than phoning in a repeat performance, Hartley can approach the material with new ideas.


Viewers of this genre aren’t going to be tired of seeing him. Fans of Hartley won’t be seeing him in a role they’ve become too familiar with. It’s a win all around.


On top of that, Hartley’s been known to step outside his norm and surprise viewers.


His brief but hilarious part opposite Kathryn Hahn in A Bad Mom’s Christmas got real belly laughs out of me. He was able to slip into a comedic role effortlessly, and he easily made me forget about the drama of This Is Us.


Justin Hartley’s ready to take on a new role, and we’re ready to see him do it. Let’s hope the writing on Tracker can keep up.


How to Watch Tracker


Clearly, CBS has a lot of confidence in Hartley’s ability to bring Colter Shaw to life. They went straight-to-series on the show and premiered it directly after the biggest televised event in the world. That’s not just a launch pad; that’s a rocket boost.


Episodes air on CBS and are available the next day on Paramount+. 


Will Tracker be a hit, or will it become background noise? Let us know what you think!

Shela Ward is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. You can follow her on X.





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